Several states have been deliberating for months over the passage of a mandate that would require welfare recipients to pass a drug test to receive benefits. Although the controversial measure would no doubt impact a number of African Americans, Georgia’s Gov. Nathan Deal (pictured) signed the proposal and raised another debate over the fairness of the new law. The question that needs to be raised is this: Does this new law violate the civil rights of poor Blacks and other welfare recipients?
The stats and figures all point to a low number of welfare recipients testing positive for drug use.
Lawmakers in various states claim that a low-tolerance policy of using funds for drugs is necessary to help curb budgets control a wayward welfare system. But what doesn’t seem to strike a chord with state officials is that an invasive drug-testing system further adds to the humiliation and struggles of recipients who already have to humble themselves in a variety of ways to get assistance. Further, the tests are a violation of Constitutional 4th Amendment rights that citizens should not have to endure unreasonable search and seizure.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott was one of the more vocal supporters of the mandate, after erroneously stating live on CNN last summer that “studies show that people on welfare are using drugs much higher than other people in the population.” What ended up happening in Florida in August is telling: only 2 percent of the population on welfare tested positive for drugs — well more than half of the reported statewide 7.7 percent drug use. According to state law, all those recipients who had to pay for the drug tests upfront (with costs averaging $30 per test) were reimbursed by the state.
Federal statistics report that 8 percent of the population reported illegal drug use, which should be noted when taking this topic into consideration. In Michigan, 8 percent of welfare recipients tested positive for drugs, and while it is indeed an outrage that some would use their funds in such a way, the punishment shouldn’t be levied to all. Republicans, such as Scott and Presidential nomination frontrunner Mitt Romney find that testing is a good idea despite the findings that drug purchase isn’t necessarily linked to receiving welfare assistance.
It comes across as political theater to viciously go after welfare recipients, depicting them as immoral cads who wish to blatantly abuse their funds for drugs. States aren’t exactly handing out whopping amounts of cash either, and recipients are subjected to screening and questioning of a high level to even be considered for assistance. While the debate over drug testing has cooled considerably after state lawmakers faced insurmountable roadblocks in passing the measure, the fight will undoubtedly continue to gain traction and the biggest victims are law-abiding poor people who simply need an opportunity to get ahead.